Keronique Davis will graduate from college in May thanks to the help of the Child Care Payment Program.

Eleven years, four kids, two degrees.

That’s how long Keronique Davis of Robinsonville has been taking classes at Coahoma Community College, how many children she has and the number of degrees she’ll be graduating with in May.

“I’ve had so many jobs — I can’t even count on my fingers how many jobs I’ve had to leave because I didn’t have a babysitter, or I had a babysitter but something happened,” she said, describing how her daughter began having seizures at four months old. 

But she kept coming back to school, and she now works in customer support for Verizon.

She said she was able to juggle it all with the help of the Child Care Payment Program, part of the federal Child Care Development Block Grant. The program defrays the cost of private child care tuition for families that earn 85% of the state median income and meet certain work requirements. Families who receive the voucher pay a co-payment based on income.

According to current data, 98% of those served by the program are single parents.

But until now, many more people qualify for the program in Mississippi than there have been funds to cover. But the two latest federal COVID-19 stimulus packages include a big boost for the program and will result in nearly $330 million flowing to Mississippi to give more families access to assistance.

Carol Burnett, executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, said this will increase the availability of certificates for eligible families in the state. 

Once the money flows in and gets used, the result is going to be “a lot more moms are going to be able to go to work,” said Burnett. 

“There has been a need for this funding even before the pandemic,” she continued, though the pandemic has “really worsened that situation.” 

Child care providers have closed and lost significant amounts of revenue after having to reduce their capacity to abide by social distancing guidelines, purchase more cleaning equipment and hire additional staff. The stimulus package also included a portion of funding going directly to child care centers to offset the negative impact.

“The need is so great. The benefit of getting help paying the costs of child care is humongous for a single mom,” said Burnett. “It makes a huge difference to her.”

It made a difference for Davis, who said it was a challenge juggling work, school and her children. Her current job allows her to work from home, but dealing with customers on the phone with four children in the background was impossible.

“Now that the day care is back up and running, I can send them to day care and be able to work, then get them when I get off at 5 o’clock,” she said.

The program covers care during the day for young children, in addition to after school and summer care for school-age students up to 12 years old. It also allows parents to choose their providers so they can select one with the hours and services they need.

And the funds are particularly impactful in Mississippi, the state with both the highest child poverty rate and a high percentage of women who work in low-wage jobs. Twenty-two percent of women work in low-paid jobs, according to the National Women’s Law Center, which categorizes low-paid jobs by looking at the 40 lowest paying jobs as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The funds must be obligated by 2023 at the latest and spent by 2024.  

Parents eligible for the program can apply for assistance at this link.

Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.